My sister Mandy and her 5 year-old daughter Lexi are visiting right now from Portland. The idea was that they would come down and help us with our new baby. In exchange, I’m teaching Lexi that the world is a cruel, horrible place filled with unpredictable danger and untrustworthy, possibly violent adults.
They arrived last night. The majority of today went smoothly. We picked a bunch of lemons and grapefruits from the trees in our backyard. Lexi organized them onto several paper plates and we displayed them on boxes in front of our house with a sign reading “Free Lemons and Limes.” There was a lot of confusion in this setup, because we didn’t mention the grapefruits, and we didn’t actually have limes. Awhile ago, our friend Michael had told Sarah that limes are just baby lemons. We discovered this wasn’t true when our friends Colin and Dot from down the street stopped by the lemon and grapefruit stand. “I didn’t know you had a lime tree,” Colin said.
“There’s no such thing as a lime,” I said. “Limes are just baby lemons.”
“I don’t think that’s right,” Colin said.
I looked it up on my phone and indeed, it was not right. Sarah and I had been played for a couple of suckers. Next time I see Michael I’m going to punch him in the face.
After dinner, Lexi asked if we could take a walk. I was feeling a little cooped up so I agreed to take her out into the world.
We walked down to the corner of our street. About halfway to the stop sign I told her I’d race her to the corner. Then we turned around and ran back. When we were almost to our house, I thought it would be funny if I ran up behind her and grabbed her in one graceful motion and sprinted down the street triumphantly with her on my shoulders.
Only, I completely misjudged her weight and the amount of momentum I’d need to scoop a running target into the air. I ran up behind her and grabbed her off the ground. That part I accomplished just fine. The trouble was, I had leaned so far forward in the process of getting down to her level that I was unable to snap back up to running position. Horribly off-balance, I crashed to the pavement, spiking her onto the sidewalk like a retarded kitten.
The moment I tried to pick her up, I realized it had not been a very well thought-out plan. But it was too late. All I could do was let my instincts take over and hope that my instincts would lean more toward preserving the child than myself. I’m not sure if they did. It was all a blur. Somehow, we ended up a few feet apart on the sidewalk. I had most definitely not twisted around and cushioned her blow with my body, but to be fair, I’m not incredibly limber and we were only about two feet off the ground when we fell.
There was a moment’s pause in which it seemed like there might be no repercussions. Maybe I had done it, magically contorting my body enough that I was the only one who suffered.
No such luck. Lexi broke into an open-throated wail that should have told everyone in the neighborhood, “Call the police. A maniac just tackled a child to the ground.” Fortunately or un-, the neighbors are not very observant. I scooped her back off the ground, trying to keep my cool. “It’s okay, we just had a little tumble,” I said. “You’ll be okay.” Inside, all I could think was, “I have just ruined a child’s life.”
I brought her inside and breathlessly explained the situation to Mandy and Sarah. Lexi had a scraped chin and leg, torn pants, and a big welt on her forehead. Our walk had lasted about 3 minutes, and in that time, I had managed to damage 3 of her body parts and ruin one of the few items of clothing she’d brought in her suitcase.
She was right as rain after about 10 minutes of coddling, but she didn’t have much to say to me for the rest of the evening. I know kids are resilient, but it’s hard not to look at it from an adult’s perspective. If one of my friends had run up behind me unexpectedly and tackled me to the ground like an asshole, I would never hang out with that dude again. If something like this had happened when she was, say, 13, she would spend the rest of her life thinking I was a total creep.
My only real hope is that she’s still naive enough to be confused by pretty much everything adults do. “I guess they just tackle kids sometimes,” she’ll think. “Now I wonder how I’m going to convince them to let me eat candy for breakfast.”